Investing in Zimbabwe’s lost generation

As a country we are only as good as our youth. The youth is the soul, the heartbeat of any nation. Take a moment, look at our beloved Zimbabwe. What is the state of our youth?

just saying: Delphino Machikicho

Thousands of our graduates have no choice, but to be street vendors. Many have lost hope of getting a stable job. They chase anything that can put food on their plate. But at least they have a qualification, right? Some of our abyent youth have married young, their only escape from poverty. At least they got married, some may say. We have children hooked on drugs and alcohol and they are sinking quickly. They have spent their blossoming years scavenging and roaming the streets aimlessly. What will become of them?

Say by some “aguma” chance the Zimbabwean economy gets back on its feet right now, industries are operating at optimum capacity, banks are liquid, queues have disappeared, micro enterprises and vendors have clearly designated business squares, streets are clean, roads are carpeted, imagine all this in your country…do you think our youth would be able to dovetail into a well-functioning economy?

Would we be able to develop business models that only start to yield returns after five years or are we accustomed to burning and making exponential returns instantly? Would the average youth be patient and disciplined enough to wait for a monthly salary instead of making $3 a day selling airtime?

Would the young man hooked on bronco in Kambuzuma be willing to wake up each day to work in a cotton factory? Would the young lady in Setshanke that left school at Grade 7 fit into the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

What point am I making here? No matter how open Zimbabwe is for business, we have an entire generation that we are losing. The youth being the nucleus and the muscle of the workforce we cannot afford to ignore this ticking time bomb. Our economy can be resuscitated, we can attract foreign direct investment (FDI), but there is a challenge that we need to address as a country. How do we regain our lost generation?

How do we get the House of Stone standing again? I would like us to start a conversation about the Zimbabwean youth recovery plan. My thinking is we need to empower the youth with knowledge, we need to equip them with skills and we need to inspire them. Inspire them to dream again, to work for this their home, Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe National Youth Policy was developed as a framework to provide common aspirations and priorities for youth development across the country.
This is the blueprint of youth development and engagement in the country. The policy recognises and values young women and men as a key resource and national asset. It highlights the importance of youth development to nation building and the creation of a democratic, productive and equitable society.

Like many others, this is a good document. The only aspect lacking is…you guessed it, implementation. The simple and quickest way is for the Ministry of Youth to partner with civil society. Government must create structures for NGOs to collaborate. Too many small organisations are operating in silos, they need to come together and develop effective programmes. Take for instance the drug abuse plague that is destroying our youth. Drug abuse intervention programmes that range from prevention, support groups and rehabilitation programmes should create a think-tank that operates in Mbare. Government’s role would be to invite all the organisations working in Mbare to develop a collaborative programme. The different organisations work together without duplication of effort, they can share resources and ideas, refer cases to relevant organisations. Government would only need to provide resources and support where needed, monitor and evaluate the impact of the collaboration.

To the NGOs and civil society, the major role players in youth development, this is the central player on the field. Unfortunately, the passion in this sector has outrun the precision. Far too many NGOs are failing and burning out because of the lack of effective management. For an NGO to achieve the desired impact there should be a detailed needs assessment. Programmes developed should be based on the needs of the youth. Many international donors and NGOs have prescribed interventions without an understanding of the Zimbabwean landscape. Sadly, these failures are avoidable. I would love to see more well-run Zimbabwean NGOs addressing Zimbabwean problems.

NGOs are critical because they have the reach and the penetration that government and the private sector do not have. They can reach the deepest rural areas and create impact in the lives of the youth.

For the operations to be effective there are key success factors for NGOs in youth development, some of them are:

 Needs assessment: understand the needs of each area of intervention.

 Intervention quality: do the programmes achieve the desired objectives?

 Partnerships: we cannot do everything alone. Work with specialists in areas you do not have expertise.

 Monitoring and evaluation: always work to improve your programme delivery to meet the desired impact.

Some organisations have done tremendously well in creating sustainable impact models with evident results

To the private sector, your role is critical in the youth development agenda. It is important to acknowledge that many companies do have corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. However, we need to re-think the effectiveness of the CSR programmes that have been implemented. Donating school shoes and backpacks is great, I agree. But when the shoes are torn, that is the end of it. I propose a model of skills development. Shoes can get torn and thrown away, but skills are eternal. One cost-effective and practical example is, each company adopts a school and/or a children’s home. Run a career and life skills day at the school every term. Spend two hours sharing your life stories, how did you make it to the position you hold. My experience working with the youth has taught me that, it is in the simple life stories that a student can find inspiration to pursue their dreams despite the obstacles. In just two hours you would have achieved the Lighthouse theory, if they did it…why can’t we do it too?

Lastly, you also have an important role to play in this youth recovery plan. No impact is ever too small. Our country can be changed one individual at a time. You have a skill that a young person can learn, teach them. It could be dress making, carpentry, cooking that could be a skill that changes their life. That could be their only break in life. If not, there are many opportunities for you to volunteer your time in a structured programme. This can be tutoring on a Saturday morning in an under-resourced school. Or you can just be there as a big brother or big sister, someone to talk to. That goes a long way in their growth.

As we work to rebuild our beloved Zimbabwe, let us not forget the youth who feels the punches of life harder than anyone else. During the confusing times of adolescence, one may need a hero to show up and save their life, that could be you. No person is ever beyond repair; a weed-head can recover and be a message to multitudes. But who will help them recover if we do not?

It will take all our effort to resuscitate the soul of Zimbabwe, our youth. Can we empower them, can we inspire them, can we equip them with skills and knowledge to take on the future with hope?

In the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” …just saying!

Delphino is an IBASA-certified business adviser and a social entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and executive director of Waumbe Youth Development. You can send him feedback on delphinom@waumbe.org.za or follow him on Twitter @DelphinoTaona